Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Using Magic Cards in RPGs

Reading Barry's post on Treehouse on his gaming group's adventures in Sigil, I clicked on a product he had hyper-linked (Paizo's Friends & Foes) and suddenly found my brain kicking into overdrive. It has been a long, long time since I've mixed Magic: The Gathering and D&D resources. Back then it was cutting out card artwork and taping it onto character sheets. This time, I might leave the artwork on the cards...

But I'm getting ahead of myself a little bit here. The point of this post is to brainstorm ways that Magic: The Gathering cards can be used for D&D (or other RPGs). These are the ideas that jumped out at me initially:
  • As character portraits: Cut out the art and tape it on the character sheet like I used to, or look up the card in Gatherer, save the image, crop the border, and add it to the sheet before you print.
  • As decks of random encounters: Create, for example, some goblin encounters, some mercenary encounters, a couple ogre encounters, and a dragon encounter. Then put five goblin cards, three mercenary cards, two ogre cards, a dragon card, and a bunch of lands in the deck. Shuffle and flip a card any time  you would roll for a random encounter. Go on with the adventure if you flip a land; otherwise, play out the encounter as drawn.
  • As NPC inspiration: Most of the cards have some kind of humanoid character in the artwork that can be used for inspiration. Like the Paizo product in the link above, you don't need to know a whole lot about the character in the picture to make some assumptions and fill in the gaps. It's certainly a lot easier than trying to make characters distinguishable off the top of your head every time. Granted, not all NPCs need to be distinguishable, but this gives that little imaginative kick-start that might be needed when an NPC you expected to be overlooked suddenly takes on more meaning.
  • As random treasure: Artifacts will work best for this, but other cards can as well. Put in a bunch of cards that can be tied to D&D magic items and draw cards whenever you would normally roll on tables in the books. 
  • As random plot hooks: This might not be all that useful to most groups, but I think it would be cool to have a deck of interesting events to draw from when there is a lull in the action. Just think of the kick start your game would get if the DM drew Stone Rain and then had to think of how that might happen in the game. All of a sudden, the PCs have to deal with giant rocks falling from the sky, and then (of course) they'll need to investigate why such a freak event happened. Was it the beginning of a prophecy in which they are involved? Or just the work of an evil wizard?
It might sound like much of this would require more effort than it's worth. However, I know that when I'm running games, my ability to describe things well goes up and down depending on the day (and any number of other random factors). Using these cards gives you the ability to draw from the art, flavor text, ability, or anything else on the card for inspiration. That +2 sword that you just found? It looks like the Sword of Kaldra...

What do you think? Any other ideas that you've tried or considered trying?
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